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island – aisle

    The noun island is from Old English íegland, ígland, a pleonastic compound of íeg, íg, meaning isle, and land. The literal meaning of íeg is watered place. This word is related to Old English éa, water, river, and a compound frequent in Old English was éaland, literally water-land, river-land. Old English éa is related […]

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porridge

    MEANING   a dish consisting of oatmeal or another meal or cereal boiled in water or milk     ORIGIN   The noun porridge is an alteration of pottage and had originally the same meaning: a thick soup made by stewing vegetables, herbs or meat, often thickened with barley, pulses, etc. The change […]

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‘wasp’

‘wasp’

  image from Le Corset à travers les âges (The Corset through the ages – 1893), written by Ernest Léoty and illustrated by Saint-Elme Gautier     MEANING   a social winged insect which has a narrow waist and a sting and is typically yellow with black stripes     ORIGIN   Of Germanic origin, the noun […]

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cockroach

    MEANING   A beetle-like scavenging insect with long antennae and legs. Several tropical kinds have become established worldwide as household pests.     ORIGIN   This noun first appeared in the form cacarootch in The generall historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles (1624), by John Smith (1580-1631), soldier and colonial governor. […]

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caterpillar

    MEANING   the larva of a butterfly or moth     ORIGIN   First attested in the mid-15th century, the noun caterpillar is probably from catepeluse and variants, which were the Anglo-Norman forms of the Old French feminine noun chatepelose and variants, meaning literally hairy she-cat. In his textbook Lesclarcissement de la langue […]

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to have one’s work cut out

    MEANING   to be faced with a hard or lengthy task     ORIGIN   This phrase is supposedly a metaphorical allusion to the preparation of fabric to be worked on: once the shapes have been cut out, the tailor still has a lot of sewing to do, by hand in the past, […]

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paramour

    MEANING   a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person     ORIGIN   Derived from Old French par amour, par amur, meaning by, or through, love, the English adverb par amour, later written as one word, appeared around 1250 in Floris and Blancheflour in the phrase to love par amour, […]

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panther

panther

  Bija, a two-year-old female black leopard – Picture: Barry Bland/Barcroft Media       MEANING   a leopard, especially a black one     ORIGIN   Via Latin panthera and Anglo-Norman and Old French forms derived from Latin such as panthere and pantere (Modern French panthère), the English noun panther is from ancient Greek […]

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comrade

comrade

        In Spanish, from the noun cámara (from Latin camera), meaning a chamber, a room, was derived the collective feminine noun camarada, a military term attested in the mid-16th century in the sense of chambered or cabined (company). (The French feminine noun chambrée, from chambre, room, has the same meaning.) In Spanish, […]

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companion

companion

  photograph: David Levene for the Guardian       In the sense of a person one chooses to socialise or associate with, this noun dates back to the early 14th century. It is from Anglo-Norman and Old and Middle French forms such as compaignun and compaignon (Modern French compagnon), derived from Late Latin companio/companion-, attested […]

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